Connie Whitman | The Seven Steps to Sales Success

Adam LeanPodcast

On this week’s episode of P is for Profit, we speak with sales expert, Connie Whitman. Connie is the CEO of Whitman and Associates, and is known for her high-energy, passionate, and enthusiastic approach to teaching and coaching. She aims to help business owners and sales teams build powerhouse organizations to achieve their most outrageous goals.

“You could be a great athlete, but that doesn’t mean you should be coaching your team. One thing that I see with business owners is they’re really good at creating their product or service, the innovation of it, but maybe sometimes they shouldn’t be selling it; they get into the weeds too much. They talk about the details of whatever the product or service can do, but it’s not about the product, or you and your business, it’s always about the client,” says Connie.

We chat about Connie’s entrepreneurial journey, as well as:

  • Ensuring that your sales team is not only capable but also willing to sell
  • Her book, ESP – Easy Sales Process
  • Her seven steps to sales success
  • Building an effective referral network with integrity 
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:

Transcript

Adam Lean: In this episode, we’re going to talk about how to improve your business’s sales performance. We’re going to talk to a sales expert on how to change your sales team’s behaviors so that you can increase sales and improve customer satisfaction. This is P is for Profit. 

Adam: Welcome to P is for Profit. My name is Adam Lean and I along with the rest of the team at The CFO Project are passionate about helping business owners improve the profitability of their business. My guest today is Connie Whitman. She is the CEO of Whitman and Associates and is known for her high energy, passionate and enthusiastic approach to teaching and coaching. She helps business owners and sales teams build powerhouse organizations to achieve outrageous goals. Connie, welcome to the show.

Connie Whitman: Thanks for having me, Adam. I’m excited to be here.

Adam: Yes, I’m excited as well. Sales is obviously very important. Without sales, you really have no business. So let’s dive in and talk. And we were talking before the show, you have a book coming out called Easy Sales Process: The Seven Steps to Sales Success, I want to dive in to learn more about the seven steps because I think keeping it easy, like we talked about, is just very important. So before we dive in, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and how you became a sales expert. 

How Connie Became a Sales Expert

Connie: So I’ve been in sales for, and I giggle when I say this, Adam, because I’ve been in financial sales specifically for 38 years. And you know what you say something and you think, wait, did I just say that? Because it’s like a lifetime has gone by and to me, it feels, you know, just like yesterday I started on this career. And then 20 years ago, the company I was working for, that industry, it was the banking industry and the financial industry, and the 90s were going through merger mania and I really started getting uncomfortable. 

I had babies at home. I had a one and a four-year-old. And lack of control, lack of control of income, all of those things. So I remember I came home and I said to my husband, people that know me have heard the story like a bazillion times, and I said, you know, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t work for the company that bought us. I really want to get fired. 

And so we’re married 28 and a half years, by the way, and two babies at home. He’s like, what do you want to do? And I said, I want to start my own business. So again, 28 years married, so he gets me and I never looked back. I started 20 years ago. It was my own business. And the thing for me, you have to remember, you know, anybody listening, I had been in the industry for 18 years. I was a senior vice president, had been with the company 13 years. 

And Adam, you know as we get older, our network kind of organically grows, because you meet people, you know, people who goes here, who goes there, but the financial industry is actually quite small. So I knew people all over the place, and I was able to leverage that network. And because people also knew me and trusted my work ethic. So I was able to leverage that having that good reputation and start to bring clients in to my business. And that, you know, again, 20 years ago knock on wood, I’m very blessed, I’m very blessed. 

Adam: So essentially, you coach and train business owners and leaders on how to develop their sales team, those organizations. So let me ask you this, most business owners are in their business, they started their business because they’re an expert at what they do, which naturally makes them the best salesperson in the organization. How does a business owner go from being the chief salesperson to training a team to sell for them?

Connie: Well, it’s like anything else, you could be a great athlete and good at what you do. That doesn’t mean you should be coaching your team. The other thing I think that I see with business owners, they’re really good at their product or service or creating their product and service, the innovation of it, maybe sometimes they shouldn’t be selling it because they get into the weeds too much and they talk about the detail of the, whatever the product or service can do instead of the, it’s not about the product or you and your business, right? It’s always about the client. And I think sometimes it’s 

Adam: Features versus benefits.

Connie: Yeah, and we’re good as business owners to say this is what I created, this is what it does. People don’t care about that. They want to know, hey, how’s that going to help me right here right now? So sometimes it’s hard for business owners to articulate that number one. Number two, now let’s say you’re great at selling your business, awesome. And now you bring people on. Doing something and teaching something can be very, very different. 

So if you are a good teacher, then you could bring them out on calls, and you can teach them again in that very easy way because you can, and then as you hands off, right? And kind of co-facilitate the meeting, and then ultimately let the salesperson do it, and you’re observing. There’s coachable moments there. So that’s great. But what if you don’t have that teaching capacity? 

You really should start to look for someone who can help your sales team grow sales skills. It’s not about your product or service. Like, if you’re selling IT or software and you’re really good at that technical piece, I don’t know that I would hire engineers who understand the technology to sell it, because you need somebody who could get out there from a sales perspective, who’s gonna engage any type of personality and not be awkward about it. Did that just make sense? 

Adam: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Needed to understand that clients want you to speak to their needs, not your own or your own benefit, your own company’s needs. So yeah, that makes sense. So let me ask you this, the age-old question, are salespeople, in your opinion, bred or born? Like, in other words, can you take somebody on your team and make them into a great salesperson? Can you coach somebody or train somebody to be a great salesperson or do you already have to have this existing personality type?

They Have to be Willing

Connie:  I believe that if you have someone who is passionate about the product or service, they believe in what they’re selling and talking about and they have the capacity to learn how to network and do meetings live and engaging and passionate about it and hone those skills. Yes, I think they should be coached. Here’s the real question. Do your people that you have in sales, let’s say they grew up through your organization and they know your stuff inside and out, your operations inside and, the mechanics inside and out? 

Their introvert. Do they want to sell? And I think that’s the bigger question. People, business owners need to ask people who they think are a natural fit for sales? Do they even want to sell? Because I hear this all the time, you know, sales is icky, sales is sleazy. And it’s funny because in my whole career, I have never felt that way because when I sit down with a client, obviously, I was financial, right? Up until this point, now teaching sales, but I would sit with people and ask a million questions because I, personally, me, I never wanted to talk down to someone. 

So if they understood certain concepts, I’m not going to go through it again because they knew it. So I knew I could elevate the conversation. If they didn’t understand basic cash flow and basic budgets. I had to get into the weeds a little bit with them to teach them that. So I, but I’m not afraid of that. See, I’m not afraid to ask questions and go where the client is, right? If it’s low, I can go low. If they’re super high, I could start super high. So I think you have to make sure first and foremost, does the person you think who’s going to be great at sales do they want to sell? 

And some people just feel it’s icky. It’s not, but they feel it’s icky. Well, if you have this deep belief system because you got ripped off by a salesperson, you know, 100 years ago and you’re still carrying that energy they might not want to do it. If they don’t want to do it, they’re not going to be successful. So, I think the question is, you have to ask the person, are they not only capable, but are they willing and do they have a desire? And I think that’s really the critical piece. 

Adam: Yeah, that makes sense. So let’s talk about your book. It’s Easy Sales Process, ESP. I like that. The Seven Steps to Sales Success. Tell us about the book. And I’m curious about these seven steps.

Connie: So of course, I just want to comment on the ESP. It’s a little play on words because when we’re speaking to our client, and you know, this, Adam, there’s an element of like this, ESP, it has to have a little bit that, you know, underlying vibrational connectivity, right? that you want them to like you and believe you and trust you. And there’s that ESP element. So yes, but it’s really the Easy Sales Process. So 38 years ago, when I started in sales, just like anybody else, I was given a script and said, Go get on the phones. Before the internet, we had landlines and phone books, you know, that we would call from. 

And they were cold calls. They were brutal cold calls, right? Everything is kind of shifted. But initially, when they gave me the script, it was horrifying because I was 20something years old and it was written by like a 60-year-old person clearly. So there was that disconnect, you know, initially. So I started doing things and creating things using their templates but making them mine so that when I would get on the phone, it was Connie Whitman speaking, not their script. So I kind of just ad-libbed and I was good at it and I was successful. 

So then when I started my business 20 years ago, doing something, it’s what I said before, Adam, doing something well and teaching something, there was a big shift. So I sat down, and I really started peeling back my own onion, so to speak, the layers of my onion, and I was like, why was I successful? What did I do? How did I connect with the client? And that’s, over time, I’ve really harnessed that seven-step sales process, realizing I did use a process. You know how you do things you don’t realize you’re actually using a process? And that’s when I looked at it and kind of evaluated it. It was a process. So do you want me to,

Adam: Yeah. I’m curious. I’m ready to take notes.

The Seven Steps to Sales Success

Connie: Cool. So step one is preparing. You’re not even looking, touching, seeing the client, it’s all about what goes on behind the scenes. You know, examples, is your desk organized? When you prepare for a meeting, Do you have an agenda that you use over and over again? When you get into the questions part of the discussion, are your questions tight prepared? Are you, do you know you’re going to get good responses? What’s your value statement sound like? Is it tight where the client is going to immediately trust you and see you as an expert? 

All of that is prep time management, delegation, right? There’s a lot going on in preparation. But if you don’t go in super organized, you’re going to flounder and you’re going to fail, right? Or maybe not fail, maybe that’s too strong of a word. But the sales process or getting the customer to say yes, it’s going to take an exceedingly more amount of time. So that’s step one. Step two, I mentioned the value statement. You have to know who you are, what you’re good at, and how well you communicate. So there’s a value statement. 

They say it’s a 30-second commercial. That’s how we build rapport. What are you sharing about yourself? And not that, Adam, you’d be my client and go, So Adam, before we begin, let me tell you about myself. That would be horrifying. But through that conversation, letting you know my experience, letting you know, you know, my values, that’s real important. You know, finding what you and I have in common. That’s all rapport building. Some people are really good at it. Some people are not. 

Adam: Yeah. And it’s an art. That’s an art. Yeah.

Connie: It’s an art, it is. So like I said, before we started the show, Adam, these seven steps are simple to understand. I’m not saying they’re simple to execute. 

Adam: As with anything, right? 

Connie: Yeah, you have to practice, right? So one, preparation, two, rapport, so, three, questions. You know, are you asking open-ended questions? Are you asking closed-ended questions? Are you interrupting the customer instead of letting them complete their thought and share thoughtful answers with you? So when you’re, and here’s a rule of thumb for me. Well, I’ll share that in a second. So questions, real important. With questions, step four is listening skills. 

So here when I was in my 20s and I was selling insurance at the time, my regional manager, every Friday, we had a sales meeting and all the agents had to come in. One day, he said, you know, guys, we have two ears and one mouth. We should be listening twice as much as we speak. And Adam, that was, you know, 35 years ago, I still remember that. It’s a visual. I’m personally a visual learner. So that idea, if you’re in a call with a client and you’re doing all the talking, stop, put the, I call it the virtual duct tape. If you’re not letting the customer speak, really, it should be about 60% of the time, you’re doing it wrong. 

And you’re not going to find out enough so that when you get to asking for the business, they’re going to have objections for you. So that question listening combination, critical. Again, our attention span is down to, I want to say, I think adults are six to seven minutes is our attention span. Yes, frightening. So take those notes so that you occupy your mind and home to what the client is saying. So that’s step four. Step five, if you’ve done really good with the questions, you’ve built rapport, you listened really well, it is going to become crystal clear what the client needs from you. 

Either a singular product or service, or hopefully a package that you can package your stuff. So it really hits a home run for all of the client’s needs, situations, traumas. Whatever’s going on in their life, you want to make sure you can really fill that void for them. And that’s in the presentation. And of course, presentation, I mentioned before, it’s all about the benefit. Benefit answers. Everybody knows what’s in it for me, right? WIIFM.What’s in it for me, me being the client, right? So that will be the prep presentation. 

Then the next one is ask for the business. So many salespeople say so, think about it. You know, if you’re interested, let me know. And, you know, huge mistake. Ask for the business. And then with that if they give you pushback or objections, don’t say Alrighty, then. We’re done here. Try to dig in a little more and find out why they’re objecting. My rule of thumb is if you get an objection, then you may make a mistake in one of the previous five steps because you, maybe you didn’t build rapport enough, maybe you jump to questions too soon. Maybe you didn’t ask enough questions.

So usually, as you get good at these steps and understanding and applying, you’ll be able to go back and self-evaluate, which is another big thing for me. You have to self-assess after every meeting. You’ll be able to discover, I didn’t ask enough questions, or whoa, my presentation was so off today. Or Wow, I was uncomfortable with them. I didn’t feel like I built a rapport. You’ll know where you kind of disconnected from the client and that’s why you’re getting the objection. So knock on wood, I don’t ever get an objection. 

And Adam, it’s not because I’m that good, it’s because I don’t ever ask for the business until the time is right. I will ask for follow up appointments so we could continue to dig in and if other people need to come to the meeting. Sometimes they have influencers that need to be part of the decision-making process. Through questions, you’ll discover that and then instead of asking for the business, you say, hey, let’s match schedules, get your partner on the phone, your accountant on the phone. Let’s create another meeting. 

We can Zoom. We can do, I don’t know if we’re going to be doing it in person anytime soon but let’s create that next meeting. You’re keeping them in the sales loop, in that sales funnel, versus saying no, I’m not ready now. And then now you’re going into follow up mode, which isn’t bad. But we want to stay engaged as long as we can until we get the business. And then the last step I kind of hinted is follow up. If you’re not following up, you’re losing business. So can I share some stats with follow up?

Adam: Sure.

Connie: Okay. So I want to say it’s I think under 5% of salespeople only follow up twice and only make about 2% of their business. And then the statistics just go from there. 80% of salespeople never follow up more than three or four times. 80% of sales are made between the fifth and the 12th contact. Yeah. So people are stopping and thinking, Oh, that customer, yeah, they’re dead. That’s, they’re not interested. 

That’s not necessarily true because we have this very short attention span, humans in general, we really need to follow up that five to 12 times for the customer to process, kind of percolate and say, Hey, you had mentioned, could you maybe do this? And the other thing I just want to comment with follow up, typically, your clients are dealing with more vendors or resources than just you, right? So if you’re not following up, the other resources or vendors that they are dealing with is. So what happens when they are ready to say, yeah, I’m ready, let’s do this. 

They’re gonna call who’s, what I call top-of-mind, it’s the person who’s been, and my follow up is called consistent, persistent, respectful. CPR follow up. So you keep it alive, CPR. You get it? So consistent, persistent, respectful, is the real big piece. You don’t ever want to overstep but you want to stay in that sweet spot of follow-up because then when the customer is ready to make the decision, they’re going to call you because you’re top of mind. You went beyond the three calls. You did the five to 12. That’s where the magic happens.

Adam:  I love that. Yeah, I mean, especially if you’ve done the previous steps, like building the rapport and listening and asking questions, when it comes time to the follow-up, they, the relationship’s built and they trust you. You know, and I agree with sales. You know, a lot of people think that sales prior has been sort of a slimy industry. But those are people that, in my opinion, are just doing it completely wrong. 

Sales is the act of providing something that somebody needs or wants, and if they need or want it, you’re just the person to just guide them to be their sort of tour guide to get them to what they need or want. So it’s, you never should be forcing the sale, which makes it become a sleazy, slimy, you know, strategy.

Integrity, Referrals, and Reciprocity

Connie: And that was the respect, the consistent and persistent,  that your own behavior, correct? You have to do it facially whether you want to or not, but that respect line for me I was raised in a very respectful home, to respect others and to respect myself. So whenever I do my follow up, and I know this is gonna sound goofy and people laugh at me, but I always come from a place of love. My job is to help them. 

When they walk away from me, my clients, I always want them to feel better. Either moving more organized or their sales process, more of their team is being successful. So they always see movement in the betterment, not stagnation. And then I feel I’ve done my job. So I’m always selling from a place of love and care because it’s not about me and what I can do. It’s always about the customer and now I can potentially help them or not. 

And if I can help them, you know, Adam, I’ve been doing this so long, the amount of resources I have at my fingertips, people I know I trust because I would never recommend someone that I felt was icky or sleazy. I’m going to refer these really quality, wonderful people that have the same philosophy as me where the client comes first. So if I can, I say, out of my wheelhouse kids. Let me bring my peers in, let me bring my colleagues in. You’re going to love them. 

They have the same philosophy. They can help you with that. So then my referrals, what are the chances of them getting the sale? Like 80% because people already trust me, they know anybody I’m bringing in, they’re going to be the top-notch people because I don’t bring in mediocre. I don’t believe in mediocrity in life. I think we have to strive for greatness and whatever that means to anybody. But good truly is the enemy of great. And I won’t accept that. And anybody I refer, good isn’t good enough for me.

Adam: Yeah, that makes sense. And anybody that you refer, that person that you refer to is going because you refer to them, they’re naturally going to want to refer back to you.

Connie: Of course. Reciprocity, right? 

Adam: Exactly. Yeah.

Connie: I just want to comment on that, Adam. That is a true statement and anybody listening, you cannot go in with the attitude. Well, I referred to Adam so now he’s got to refer to me. That’s not how it works. When I refer, I refer no strings attached. I love you. I think, Adam, you’re great, my client needs you. And I know because people think the world of me just like I think the world of Adam, people will refer when the time is right. 

And it’s ironic. And again, I’m not gonna put the past 20 years, I have never made a cold call in my life to get business because I live off referrals. I’m getting referrals every day getting referrals to speak at events. I don’t even try because I have a good reputation because I’m honorable, I’m trustworthy, I have integrity. So people trust to bring me in to speak to their people or at events or whatever it is. It’s earned. It’s earned. Not Whoa, you owe me. That’s bad.

Adam: I completely agree. And that acronym you mentioned earlier, WIIFM, what’s in it for me. You know, it’s kind of funny. I’ve heard that before but whoever told it to me put it in this context, that people are only listening to their own radio station in their head, WIIFM. They only care about what’s in it for them. 

Connie: Oh, can I use that? Because I love that. 

Adam: I didn’t come up with it. But, and then that’s the, you know, how you sell in an ecommerce store. And so I was involved with helping other people, you know, about 10 years ago with their ecommerce and the biggest mistake I saw with websites is you go to the website and it’s all about the business owner, their background, and nobody cares. They care about what’s in it for them. Not, they don’t care about your background and your experience and what you’ve done. They want to make themselves better and they want to see how you can help them.

The Sale or the Service

Connie: Exactly. It’s all about service. And it’s funny, I ask a question when I train, which came first, the sale or the service? Like the chicken or the egg. The reality is, if you’re providing quality service to your client, you have to be selling something. The sale is the option for the client to make them better, whatever that means, right? 

Whatever your product or service is, it doesn’t matter. So if you’re selling something, you have to be providing quality service, as long as it’s a good match for the client. So sale and service, it’s a trick question. They’re happening all the time simultaneously because you have to be offering products and services to serve the client better. And again, whatever that means for the clients.

Adam: Yeah, I completely agree with you. So if anybody’s listening right now wants to either improve their sales skills or improve their team sales skills, where should they go?

Connie: A couple of things, they could go to my website, I have a ton of free resources. I also host a podcast. It’s international now for the past seven years. All of that is on my website and it’s all free. So they can go and kind of check things out. And I have charts for follow up to make you understand that CPR follow up and I have my seven steps, I a little visual for that. It’s all on the website. And again, my podcast is free. 

So the website is whitmanassoc.com, and I will spell that. It’s WHITMANASSOC.com. And then if you have a quick question and you think, Yeah, once your website but I have questions now. Email me. I personally respond to all my emails. I’m a very touchy-feely hands-on with my clients. I don’t let, I don’t like other people doing that rapport building, if that makes sense. I want, I am the face of my organization and I want people to get to know me and what I, how I can help them so I respond personally. So email me at Connie, CONNIE@whitmanassoc.com.

Adam: Excellent. And what’s the name of your podcast?

Connie: Oh, Enlightenment of Change.

Adam: Okay, I love it. 

Connie:  Because I don’t know, Adam, about you, but change seems to be a constant in my life. COVID is a constant change in everybody’s life. 

Adam: I was gonna say, look at 2020. Oh, man. 

Connie: The year of change. I feel like, I said to somebody the other day, I feel like we were in a snowglobe, I think we’re still in the snow globe. COVID’s like shake, shake, shake, shake. And we’re like, can we stop shaking for a minute and let things settle down? So change is inevitable. And I have guests from around the world, authors from around the world that are, there’s so many brilliant people out there, Adam. 

It’s just amazing to me. And they share different perspectives on how to navigate and approach change. And I find it fascinating because what works for you might not work for me. But then I hear another show and I’m thinking, oh my goodness, that’ll work for me perfectly. So different perspectives, I think, are real helpful for us to understand and navigate our own change. You know, again, whatever we’re going through at the time.

Adam: I love it. Well, Connie, thank you so much for being here.

Connie: I love it. Thank you so much, Adam.

Adam: Yeah, so anybody listening if you would like to see if Connie can help you with your business, please reach out. I’ll put her website and her podcast in the show notes. Again, thank you so much for listening. And remember, the goal of your business should be to make more profit than last year and turn that profit into cash that you get to keep. Thanks for listening.